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Mark Williams Is Here to Kill Small Ball

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After a day of training in Miami, where he temporarily moved to prepare for the NBA draft, Duke center Mark Williams attended Game 5 of the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals. Sitting in the third row, Williams marveled at the intensity, fitness and overall skill level that lay before him, from Jason Tatum’s mastery on the floor to Jaylen Brown throwing one of the postseason’s biggest dunks.

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Williams drew attention to how both teams communicated defensively, yelling at each screen, verbally cheering each other on the court. But most importantly, his eyes were on big men like Robert Williams III, Boston’s bouncy anchor who changed games throughout the year. Looking at what was happening, Williams continued to ask himself one question.

“What are all the guys on the floor doing to stay on the floor?” he remembers. “I think that was probably the most important thing for me. I don’t think it was like that, okay, I need to do this, I need to do that. It was just what they do and it’s what helps them be successful right now.”

This initial question isWhat do all the guys on the floor do to stay on the floor?is something that is so often tied to most centers in every playoff series as teams try to emphasize their need for offensive space without hindering the ability to consistently make stops. Over the past few years, this has caused an existential crisis among the traditional seven footers, who do most of their damage in paint.

But as Boston’s Williams III showed that night and during the many possessions throughout the 2022 playoffs, centers who don’t have a single game requiring them to score a goal can still get the better of the game and become invaluable rods in rosters striving for victory. Highest level. The position is alive and well as long as said center dominates the physical areas of basketball that are outside of the game plans and therefore cannot be played off the court.

Now 20, 7ft 2in in sneakers, he finished a season as a sophomore in which he was one of, if not the most impressive guard in college basketball. positively affect the other end – Williams hopes to refute a notion that may already be fading away. In this draft, he’s kind of a litmus test of how valuable a prospect who’s unlikely to ever average 15 points per game (and never earn a C in two college seasons) can be.

Those who say that “the postseason is matches” do it for a reason. Some centers can thrive in spite of their opponent, and some (Grizzlies big man Steven Adams, for example) can stay on the sidelines for a long time. Williams has his own take on smallball, and it’s been confirmed in the playoffs by Williams III, Kevon Looney and others who have found ways to be reliable in their roles.

“I think it has more to do with strategy,” he says. “I think if the coach thinks so about this, I can’t say that you are wrong. But my argument for having a big party is that you know what they’re going to do. They will bounce. They will protect the rim. Obviously, depending on the big ones, if they are mobile, you can trust them to switch, get a good competition. I don’t understand why I can’t be on the floor in these late game situations. … I think it’s best to just chat on the floor. You know what you’ll get.”

Standing Reach (9’9″) it’s two inches longer than Rudy Gobert’s. (and 4.5 inches longer than DeAndre Ayton) and a massive 7’7″ wingspan, Williams led the NCAA last season in hit percentage, dunks and offensive rating, as well as ACC in PER, blocked shots, win shares in 40 minutes and defense rating. . 72.3% arc shots and 72.7% free throws, Williams averaged 19 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.8 blocks in 40 minutes..

The ACC named him their Defensive Player of the Year and he was a finalist – along with Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren – for the NCAA Defensive Player of the Year. Players who move their feet, don’t foul, trust their length and hit as consistently as Williams, with the impeccable time he possesses, don’t show up every year.

The three centers that Williams most admires (Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo, whom Williams considers a member of this position) also confirm that you have someone like him on your side. Large, strong, agile bodies that are not easy to take down one on one are invaluable in such matches. Williams can also make them work on the other end, breaking glass, running from rim to rim, diving into the paint as a cross threat, with enough feel and perimeter footwork to set up a dribbling pass or knock down an open jumper.

Questions about Williams’ outside throw are pertinent given that he wasn’t in college. In the right situation, they don’t matter either. On the wrong occasion, when his team can’t surround him with real three-point threats and more than one point guard, they stand out. But they also cannot be questions forever.

“All these guys want to throw triples and be Steph Carris,” Duke assistant coach Chris Carraway said. “And we told [Williams] it won’t happen. We built it from the inside. You must protect our paint. You have to bounce and then he is an incredible finisher. He showed it with his shot from the free throw line, and he was able to show that he could take jump shots, which I think a lot of NBA teams don’t know because he couldn’t score a lot of them. . But its potential is incredible.”

Williams had 1-on-0 practices with the Knicks, Hornets, Spurs, Bulls and Wizards. In most dummy drafts, he should have gone straight out of the lottery at age 15 to Charlotte, which makes sense. It is an additional franchise center that will form a mutually beneficial relationship with LaMelo Ball. Charlotte has questions right now (like who will coach and why did their first choice say thank you but no?), but Williams can address a question that has plagued them for several seasons.

If he can intimidate from the weak side, as the Time Lord has learned to do, or become an All-Star in a tough, albeit decisive role, like Jarrett Allen or Gobert – apply pressure to the ring from both ends, completing everything around the basket, being fast enough, to include the perimeter, but also to protect the screens from the ball in the fall, high on the floor – this player deserves to go higher. As a passer, Williams has also demonstrated the ability to read the field from the post. “It’s easy to think that I’m just blocking punches,” he says. “I am more versatile than the outside world thinks. … I’m pretty collected most of the time when I’m catching it.”

That skill is key, and throughout his second season, he made instinctive passes that make it easy to imagine Williams playing on the move too. Center Jakob Poeltl is solid at San Antonio, but the Spurs need more athleticism in this position, especially as their defense and flanks continue to evolve (watch out for Devin Wassel this season). Taking Williams at number 9 seems like an achievement, but Poeltl is entering the final year of their contract and giving them an important building block that makes life easier for everyone else. (If Williams gave in to them at 20, it would be an absolute steal.)

No matter where he goes, whichever team picks Williams, he knows what he’s going to get, with some offensive edge. They tick the boxes, get a center who, if all goes well, will end up on the floor in a game like the one he played in Miami a few weeks ago. He understands that he has a lot to learn and is not afraid to train. “I just want to know why,” he says. “Why is behind everything I do.”

His goals for the coming season are to build a rookie team and then, “Obviously I want to win a championship. I think it’s always important, the desire to win wherever I am.”

More NBA coverage:

  • Trial NBA draft: latest rumors and predictions
  • Is Chet Holmgren the future of basketball?
  • NBA Draft Big Board: Final Ranking of the Top 100
  • Victor Wembanyama: why the NBA is already eyeing 2023


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